Intelligent Community Forum Launches New Connected Countryside Crowd-funding Campaign

by 5. October 2015 10:51

The U.S. based Intelligent Community Forum (ICF) announced the launch of a crowd-funding campaign for its New Connected Countryside project.  For rural Ontarians the campaign is a reminder of a critical issue for the future of rural communities and one not getting as much air time in the federal election as it likely deserves. 

The campaign can be found on Indiegogo here and will be active until November 30. 

The ICF News Release reads:

The New Connected Countryside will counter the severe and rising economic pressure faced by rural communities by providing an online platform where community leaders, residents, institutions and businesses from around the world can connect, exchange advice, share resources and build a global network of peers. The program will also include an annual virtual summit, which will feature experts and thought leaders who will give online presentations and lead panel discussions on important issues for rural communities. The New Connected Countryside is part of ICF’s Rural Imperative initiative.

“The countryside has more to gain from being connected with high-quality broadband than urban areas,” said ICF co-founder Robert Bell. “Since the launch of our Rural Imperative project two years ago, led by ICF senior fellow Dr. Norman Jacknis, we have been working to identify the strategies of rural cities, towns and counties that are prospering in the broadband economy, and to share them. The New Connected Countryside will provide us with a global platform for doing just that while engaging rural community leaders around the world in making positive change for the people they serve.”

A dozen leading rural communities have already committed to participate in the project, from Mitchell, South Dakota and Quitman, Mississippi to Parkland County, Alberta and Wanganui, New Zealand. 


Rural Economic Development (RED) Program Relaunched

by 2. October 2015 10:36

The Ontario government announced it has renewed the RED program and is receiving applications again.   Through the cost-share program rural communities, businesses and organizations can receive funding to help attract investment, create jobs, and boost tourism.   Applications will be reviewed and approved through several intake periods:

•             October 2, 2015 to January 15, 2016

•             January 16, 2016 to April 15, 2016

•             April 16, 2016 to July 15, 2016

•             July 16, 2016 to October 15, 2016

•             October 16, 2016 to January 15, 2017

The renewed program has two streams for applications: a Community Development Stream and a Business Development Stream. Most of the changes to the revamped program were made under the Business Development stream.


Specific details can be found on the OMAFRA website here.  


Federal NDP Responds to Rural and Small Town Ontario Election Questions

by 16. September 2015 09:54

The Rural Ontario Institute prepared 10 questions of importance to rural Ontario for the federal election based on priorities from our recent on-line survey.  We provided the questions to the each of the four main federal parties with an invitation to respond.  The federal New Democratic Party has done so and we are sharing their response in the attached .pdf.   We are looking forward to hearing from at least one other party who contacted us to let us know they were intending to provide a response.

NDP Response Rural Ontario Priorities - 091315.pdf (339.40 kb)


A Different Perspective on Population Change

by Rural Ontario Institute 31. August 2015 15:46

This commentary deals with the 2015 Focus on Rural Ontario fact sheets concerning size of the non-metro population, components of population change and immigrant arrivals.  It is provided by Paul Knafelc, President of Community Benchmarks Inc.

Population growth has long been a primary metric of economic vitality. Communities monitor population change and components of population change in an effort to plan for public infrastructure, social services, housing, etc. 

While useful at a high level, this metric has weaknesses that are often overlooked, but when addressed, can greatly enhance population change as a planning tool.

First, as captured in the Fact Sheets, population statistics typically refer to net population change. The net number, however, tells us little about the extent of the population churn or any notable characteristics with respect to population increases or decreases.  For example, did a community attract 1,000 new people through in-migration and lose 1,001 through out-migration? Or, did a community entice just 10 new residents and lose 11?  While the net population change is -1 in each instance, the underlying dynamics are markedly different; as such, the resulting economic development initiatives should be much different.

The number (or proportion) of people moving in and out tells us about a community’s ability to attract and retain people.  It also provides insight on labour market dynamics and skill mismatches.  There are many rural communities that have stagnant net population growth, but are quite successful at attracting people to live there (while at the same time losing residents to death and out-migration).

Second, the connotation that population growth points to a desirable place to live may be disingenuous to rural communities.  A community may be desirable for social, economic and/or physical reasons.  Most rural communities see population decline because of a lack of local jobs or an unreasonable commuting distance to jobs in other areas.  But this doesn’t mean that a community isn’t a desirable place to live. 

How do we know this to be true?  When population churn data is examined alongside associated employment income data, we learn that many rural communities are able to attract people who take a pay decrease to live there.  Desirability of this location, then, must be an influential factor in these decisions.

The same data also shows that for certain rural communities, people are less likely to leave for a pay increase, while conversely, some urban areas have a hard time retaining people, and are losing residents despite a pay decrease.

For example, even with rapid employment growth, Edmonton struggles to retain people, as a large percentage leave for a pay decrease. This fact (from data before the oil price collapse) illustrates that, for many people, the desirability of their new place of residence was higher than that of Edmonton’s.


Collective Impact Workshop - Just in Time

by 26. August 2015 13:06

Collective Impact Workshop - Just in Time

The Lord Dufferin Centre situated just steps from downtown Orangeville was the perfect venue for yesterday's Collective Impact workshop. About 25 people mainly from the Dufferin County region gathered to hear Sylvia Cheuy (pronounced 'choi') explain what Collective Impact is all about. Sylvia who has the interesting title of Director, Deepening Community Engagement for Tamarack ( made a strong case for using Collective Impact to help solve complex community issues like poverty. Tamarack's website is loaded with information and resources about CI so check it out. The Collective Impact Summit conference starts Sept. 28 in Vancouver and Conference details are available at Tamarack’s website

Keith Palmer, Dufferin County's Director of Community Services was on hand to share news about a new community initiative he is bringing before Council next month. "DC MOVES" plans to engage community stakeholders to share information and mobilize action on the important community issues facing Dufferin County. Sounds like a terrific opportunity to use Collective Impact to me.

Measuring the progress being made tackling complex community change isn't easy. The Rural Ontario Institute with financial support from the Provincial Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing has launched "Measuring Rural Community Vitality" to enable information sharing, capture of practitioner insights and lessons learned, and enable the peer exchange of best practices surrounding these hard to measure aspects of community change. Contact Mark Cassidy at for more information or visit our project webpage at


What Are Rural Youth Doing After School? Are They Getting Enough Exercise?

by Rural Ontario Institute 20. August 2015 10:55

This guest blog was provided by Jennifer Ronan of Hastings Prince Edward Public Health.

Physical activity is important for health and well-being.   The Eastern Ontario Physical Activity Network (EOPAN) recognizes physical inactivity in rural youth as an important public health issue.   Canadian children and youth spend a large proportion of the after-school time period (between 3-6 p.m.) in sedentary pursuits. During those hours, research suggests that children and youth are getting very little moderate to vigorous intensity physical activity and also that rural youth may experience additional barriers to accessing recreation (and physical activity) opportunities, such as lack of transportation or safety issues. 

With funding from a Heart and Stroke Foundation Spark Grant, five public health units in eastern Ontario surveyed youth in their rural areas to gain a better understanding of their physical activity experiences during the after-school time period.

Rural Youth After-School Experience Related to Physical Activity & Sedentary Behaviours, a discussion paper 2015, identifies patterns in physical activity and sedentary behaviours of grade 7 & 8 youth, living in rural Eastern Ontario. The objective of the paper is to help identify and guide future advocacy efforts related to rural youth physical activity during the after-school period, including the identification of opportunities and potential barriers.

One of the most poignant findings from the survey and the most important take away from this project may be the self-reported high levels of satisfaction rural youth have with their current sedentary after-school experiences.  For those working with youth, it is important to understand that there are multiple barriers to engage rural youth in after-school programs. Simply creating a program may not be enough to entice happy youth away from their current – albeit sedentary – pastimes.

For more information about this project, contact Jennifer Ronan, RN, PHN at Hastings Prince Edward Public Health at  The discussion paper (pdf.) is available below.

EOPAN_RuralYouth-Report 2015.pdf (4.26 mb)

Also a related upcoming event by the Rural Ontario East Active Recreation group (ROAR) is being held September 21.



Have Your Say on Inter-City Busing

by Rural Ontario Institute 12. August 2015 12:18

Many Ontario communities outside the GTA have been voicing concerns over the loss or decline of inter-city transportation.   The mandate letters for the Minister of Transportation and the Parliamentary Assistant  featured commitments on modernizing and appropriately regulating the intercity bus regime to ensure that it remains an attractive and affordable travel option for Ontarians.  Ministry of Transportation staff are currently working to develop recommendations and are seeking input from stakeholders.  

Ministry staff are undertaking two processes:

  • A public consultation through an Environmental Registry posting (see below), to hear directly from the public about their views and experiences travelling by intercity bus, and;
  • Data collection, to gather needed information about intercity bus use in Ontario, and to examine business models used in other jurisdictions and determine whether these models are applicable in Ontario.


This work will focus primarily on the needs of and convenience for the travelling public, with a view to creating a more seamless trip.  Identifying current service gaps is an important element of this.   

A posting to the Environmental Registry is open for submission of comments until September 25, 2015.  

Questions or concerns can be directed to Paul Steckham by phone at 416-585-7233 or by email at

The Parliamentary Asssitant to the Minister of Transportation is leading this process and submissions may be forwarded here:

MPP Kathryn McGarry

Parliamentary Assistant to Minister of Transportation

Ministry of Transportation

9th Floor, Ferguson Block

77 Wellesley Street West


Toronto, Ontario M7A 1Z8 


Six Lessons for Improving Rural-Urban Collaboration for Economic Development

by Rural Ontario Institute 11. August 2015 15:23

Six Lessons for Improving Economic Development Collaboration across the Urban-Rural Divide

This guest blog was provided by Danielle Collins a recent graduate of the University of Waterloo’s Local Economic Development Master’s Program and currently Labour Market Research Coordinator at the Workforce Planning Board of Grand Erie.

Ontario is becoming more urban, but rural communities face pressure to stimulate economic growth. Resources and political authority tend to be concentrated in cities, challenging rural areas to create innovative economic development strategies. Ontario policymakers are shifting their thoughts toward collaborative regional approaches, where rural communities could have greater access to expertise and resources. But this approach will require buy-in and support from both cities and rural Ontario. How can we bridge the urban-rural divide to ensure regional collaboration takes place – and is beneficial to all?

Six ways to improve urban-rural collaboration:

  1. Promote a regional mindset
  2. Increase awareness and education of rural challenges
  3. Identify leaders and champions
  4. Foster inclusivity and integration
  5. Formalize partnerships
  6. Consider co-location to improve coordination


Read The Higher ED Blog to see how Niagara Region and Windsor-Essex are improving urban-rural collaboration.


Recognizing Leaders in Rural Communities

by Rural Ontario Institute 23. July 2015 11:08

ROI would like to share Samara Canada’s Everyday Political Citizen project – an opportunity to nominate politically-engaged role models and leaders in your community for national recognition. We encourage you to share your compelling stories from across rural Ontario.

Conducted coast to coast to coast, the EPCitizen project aims to recognize the diversity of politics and democracy in Canada, crowd-sourcing hundreds of nominations for political citizens and celebrating some of the many thousands of ordinary people engaging engaging within and outside of mainstream politics, in big and small ways. Each year, adult and youth winners and finalists are chosen by a jury of prominent Canadians like Rick Mercer.

Nominate a leader in your community here

Samara’s “Everyday Political Citizen” is defined as an ordinary person who makes a difference in their political community in big or small ways. Some examples of Everyday Political Citizens include: an inspiring teacher, political volunteer, or community advocate.

About Samara:

Samara Canada, registered as a charity in 2009, is an organization dedicated to reconnecting citizens to politics. Samara Canada has quickly become a trusted, non-partisan champion of increased civic engagement and a more positive public life.

Rural Ontario Institute:

ROI is pleased to have Samara Canada’s support in an advisory capacity for our current Rural Community Vitality Initiative.  For more information on this project, contact Mark Cassidy, Project Manager

Stay tuned, as ROI will be collecting its own list of stories showcasing youth engagement across rural Ontario, in the coming months.


Moving Ontario Forward

by Rural Ontario Institute 20. July 2015 09:37

Rural Community Perspectives Needed on Future Infrastructure Spending 

The Ontario government is undertaking a consultation to determine how they will invest in roads, bridges, transit and other critical infrastructure outside the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Areas.   The consultation is essentially about how to stream the $15 billion the province has earmarked for infrastructure under the Moving Ontario Forward banner.   The $15 billion is close to half of the total $31 billion in provincial spending committed for  “community infrastructure” over the next 10 years.  The other $16 billion is being allocated for transit projects in the GTHA.  

You can learn about the consultation and provide your feedback here:

Why Should Rural Stakeholders Pay Attention to This?

The Ontario government has already said it will allocate dedicated funds outside the GTHA based on population.  This approach to distributing the funds fairly is a good principle and will help ensure that infrastructure projects for small towns and townships aren’t forgotten or swamped by  larger projects in cities such as London, Ottawa, Windsor and so on which may have substantial price tags.   We know that many small local municipalities are struggling to maintain the infrastructure they already have.

Apart from this principle, the province still needs to consider the pros and cons of alternative program design options.  For example, what are the benefits and drawbacks of a flexible, locally determined model where municipalities receive a transfer of funds and have discretion about which local priorities they use the finances for?  Alternatively, what are the benefits and drawbacks of a more targeted model, where funds are allocated to specific envelopes, ensuring they flow to selected priorities such as affordable housing, broadband, community transportation facilities or roads and bridges?

It is worth considering the implications of alternatives.   If targets are identified now through stakeholder consultations and become locked in, what would happen with projects that emerge down the road that may not quite fit the priorities set in 2015?  For example, this might include tourism/cultural infrastructure, recreation facilities, seniors homes, regional airport redevelopment, or harbour/intermodal facilities if those don’t make the cut now.  Perhaps incorporating some pre-set review points in the priorities over the ten years makes sense.   However, that might be unnecessary under a locally determined approach.

The structure the province sets up for the investment or transfer program(s) could have significant implications for the financing of certain regional initiatives that could benefit many communities, e.g. the SWIFT ultra-high-speed fibre optic regional broadband network.   That initiative has proposed contributions from federal, provincial and local sources – would this funding flow through as a local contribution or potentially take the form of a single provincial contribution?   Given this context, the province is inviting regional organizations such as the Eastern Ontario Wardens Caucus and Western Ontario Wardens Caucus to provide their input.  Northern stakeholders too may have already identified some regional shared priorities for investment that warrant a collective submission to the consultation. 

The input of local municipalities, who may see priorities differently than their upper tier cousins, is just as vital to designing an effective program.  Likewise, civil society organizations and non-profit leaders, who themselves are working on community issues such as affordable housing, funding for health facilities, downtown revitalization or collaborative  rural  transportation systems, have many insights to offer  on community infrastructure priorities and we hope they pass on their perspectives to the province. 

Finally, the province’s response to the consultation process might also serve to answer some questions regarding what the scope of funding includes or excludes.  For example, we are also having a consultation about “community hubs”.   Is this also potential community infrastructure?     What forms of infrastructure are we talking about here?  We note that some provincial infrastructure investments such as 400 series provincial highway improvements and the natural gas expansion program are explicitly excluded from the $15 billion pot under discussion, while others such as forthcoming investment in provincial post-secondary facilities are not explicitly excluded.     

All together we think there are enough potential implications that rural stakeholders across the province ought to contribute their thinking on these matters to the provincial policy-makers.   

The province is in the midst of holding regional consultation sessions and you can register here: